In the News 2008
The Hill

Pelosi’s feud with archbishop escalates


The public feud over abortion between the Speaker of the House and the archbishop of Washington intensified Tuesday as Rep. Nancy Pelosi responded to his recent criticism and the archbishop fired another salvo at the California Democrat.


The latest development came Tuesday evening, when Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl issued a statement to The Hill that brushed aside Pelosi’s explanation of her comments about conception on Sunday’s edition of “Meet the Press.”

Wuerl on Monday rebuked Pelosi for suggesting that the Catholic Church has long debated the moment of conception. Wuerl said that the church has taught that life begins at conception and has thus opposed abortion as a “moral evil” since the 1st century.

Pelosi’s office initially didn’t comment on Wuerl’s remarks. After getting questions from the media, Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly issued a statement on Tuesday that cited St. Augustine: “Her views on when life begins were informed by the views of St. Augustine, who said, ‘The law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation.’ ”

Wuerl swiftly denounced Pelosi’s statement, saying, “As the Catechism and early Church documents make clear, abortion is always an evil. That is an unchanging teaching. The question on when the soul enters the body was a philosophical question that grew out of a lack of scientific data at the time of St. Augustine. We have the data today which shows the embryo is human. There no longer is any discussion of whether the unborn is human and so the philosophical discussion of St. Augustine’s time is not relevant today.”

The conflict with Wuerl comes as Pelosi is chairing the Democratic convention and trying to unify the Democratic Party behind Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

In the statement issued Tuesday, Daly said that not all Catholics believe that life begins at conception, which is what Catholics are taught.

“The Speaker agrees with the Church that we should reduce the number of abortions,” Daly said. “She believes that can be done by making family planning more available, as well as by increasing the number of comprehensive age-appropriate sex education and caring adoption programs.”

Daly added that Pelosi is a mother of five children who appreciates the “sanctity of family.” He added that she was raised in a Catholic family that often disagreed with her positions in favor of abortion rights.

Daly declined to comment for this article.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, defended Pelosi in a statement on Tuesday: “Speaker Pelosi was correct in noting that Catholic teaching has changed over the years, even on the issue of when life begins.”

This article originally appeared in The Hill on 26 August 2008.

Catholics for Choice